He likes to talk, drives a 20-something-year-old navy blue pickup and is deeply attached to the land that he farms. He’s also the newest member of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Board of Directors.
Tom Lauridson was elected vice president of the organization on November 20 during the annual RMFU convention in Cheyenne. And since that time he’s been busy thinking of ways to use his new title to encourage farmers to get involved in value-added cooperative development.
A member of Farmers Union since birth, Lauridson has spent his life dedicated to agriculture. So dedicated that he has a Ph.D. in crop production. He doesn’t look much like a professor, however, in his worn jeans, boots and flannel shirt rolled up to his elbows. He looks like a farmer and he talks like one, too.
“Over there you can see the baseball diamonds built on land I used to farm,” Lauridson says as he drives me around the land that surrounds his comfortable suburban home. Not a half-mile from his home stand fences built to keep foul balls from Little League parents. The grass is still green on this December day, a testament to the warm weather we’ve had.
We pass another field – green sprouting winter wheat pokes out of the earth. “I farm this, too,” he says, “but I don’t know how much longer.” He points to the west to a tan farm shed. “Over there is where we used to live,” he says.
Lauridson and his family are victims of Colorado’s growth explosion along the Front Range. Up until last year their address was Brighton and they were able to store their farm equipment in the tan shed on their one-acre lot. Lauridson leases several farms in the area, but suburbia has caught up with them. They sold their home when they learned that they would soon be surrounded by houses on 6,000 square foot lots.
The family bought a home in town as a temporary move. They plan to build a home in southern Weld County once they find a way to get water to their property—a dilemma that may take some time to solve. When asked how he likes living in town Lauridson leaves no doubt about his feelings, “We hate it,” he says.
Western Adams County didn’t always have homes and baseball diamonds sprouting up all over. “We used to have Farmers Union youth activities out here with 80 kids involved,” Lauridson says. “But you can look out my window and see what’s happened. Farmers Union just died because there’s no farmers left.”
Lauridson says that while he has always been a member of Farmers Union he really came to value the organization when he traveled all over the state in 1993 and 1994 as part of a grant to encourage conservation compliance. He found that Farmers Union members were willing to listen to him and try new farming techniques to earn their government check.
But what really draws Lauridson to Farmers Union is the organization’s involvement in cooperative development. “When Cargill started buying all the elevators around Colorado you could see the future coming,” he says. “We needed to develop more markets.”
That opportunity arrived during a Farmers Union Fly-In to Washington, D.C. in 1994. Lauridson was along on the citizen lobbying trip when he and RMFU President Dave Carter met with then Farmers Home Administration Administrator Mike Dunn and received a $100,000 grant for a feasibility study on a wheat cooperative.
What happened next was a mixture of luck, marketing genius, and a whole lot of prayer. Lauridson is spinning a small pocketknife on the table as he talks. He starts to work at a knot with it as he says, “Dave (RMFU President Dave Carter) knew how to take action and the board was willing to take a leap of faith with Mountain View Harvest. And we had financial support from Farmers Union Service Association. No other farm organization was willing to do this. Farmers Union really stuck their neck out. Farmers Union is the reason it happened. And that really impressed me.”
He stops working at the table with the knife—a wedding gift to he and his wife Sandy 20 years ago—and runs a hand over his cropped blonde hair. “As vice president I want to concentrate on value-added cooperatives. It just makes sense to invest in markets rather than land,” he says.
Lauridson sums up his thoughts with a statement that underscores the fact that he is proud to be a farmer. “We grow food for people, so let’s act like it. We haul commodities to town and we forget that we’re going to feed people. A load of wheat will make 54,000 loaves of bread. Maybe living in town is an advantage because I see the people that eat what I grow. Value-added cooperatives are the healing process, not just a Band-Aid.”